Pigs on Continental Currency

While Benjamin Franklin didn’t do pig collectors any favors as Postmaster General (see Pigs on USA postage stamps), he was influential in putting the pig on early American paper money.

Aut Mors Aut Vita Decora

His library contained the 1702 Mainz edition of Symbolorum ac Emblematum Ethico Politicorum by Joachim Camerarius from which themes and mottoes were taken when the continental congress started issuing paper to help cover the costs of the war against the British.

The four dollar note received the honor of depicting a wild boar rushing headlong into a spear. Above was the motto “AUT MORS AUT VITA DECORA”, which means “Either death or an honorable life.” The wild boar is not an aggressive animal while left alone, but when provoked will display courage so determined that he will employ all his strength in a furious fight to the death. This was the situation of the colonials. They felt provoked, and would now fight seeking freedom to the death.

$4 Continental Currency

1,234,689 of these $4 notes were issued between 10 May 1775 and 14 Jan 1779. Ivy Mills of Chester County, Pennsylvania manufactured the heavy rag paper containing mica flakes and blue fibers. Hall and Sellers of Pennsylvania printed the notes using a combination of cast border cuts, emblem cuts, hand set type and a nature printing process that had been invented by Benjamin Franklin. Border cuts and engravings were done by David Rittenhouse and James Smither.

The British were very successful in counterfeiting these notes. Examples of authentic notes were printed on blue or pink paper to serve as counterfeit detection sheets.

After this first American war against the British, several states (as the colonies were now called) issued notes with the same illustration and motto, but moved it to the back side of the note, where Benjamin Franklin’s “Nature Prints” had once been.

For more on Continental Currency see Continental Money by Benson J. Lossing.

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